Remembering an Anniversary

A year ago I forgot to commemorate the 20th anniversary of my retirement on this date in 1997. I will compensate for my lapse by commenting at length this year.

Today is the 21st anniversary of my retirement from full-time employment at a defense think-tank. (I later, and briefly, ventured into part-time employment for the intellectual fulfillment it offered. But it became too much like work, and so I retired in earnest.) If your idea of a think-tank is an outfit filled with hacks who spew glib, politically motivated “policy analysis“, you have the wrong idea about the think-tank where I worked. For most of its history, it was devoted to rigorous, quantitative analysis of military tactics, operations, and systems. Most of its analysts held advanced degrees in STEM fields and economics — about two-thirds of them held Ph.D.s.

I had accumulated 30 years of employment at the think-tank when I retired. (That was in addition to four years as a Pentagon “whiz kid” and owner-operator of a small business.) I spent my first 17 years at the think-tank in analytical pursuits, which included managing other analysts and reviewing their work. I spent the final 13 years on the think-tank’s business side, and served for 11 of those 13 years as chief financial and administrative officer.

I take special delight in observing the anniversary of my retirement because it capped a subtle campaign to arrange the end of my employment on favorable financial terms. The success of the campaign brought a profitable end to a bad relationship with a bad boss.

I liken the campaign to fly-fishing: I reeled in a big fish by accurately casting an irresistible lure then playing the fish into my net. I have long wondered whether my boss ever grasped what I had done and how I had done it. The key was patience; more than a year passed between my casting of the lure and the netting of the fish (early retirement with a financial sweetener). Without going into the details of my “fishing expedition,” I can translate them into the elements of success in any major undertaking:

  • strategy — a broad and feasible outline of a campaign to attain a major objective
  • intelligence — knowledge of the opposition’s objectives, resources, and tactical repertoire, supplemented by timely reporting of his actual moves (especially unanticipated ones)
  • resources — the physical and intellectual wherewithal to accomplish the strategic objective while coping with unforeseen moves by the opposition and strokes of bad luck
  • tactical flexibility — a willingness and ability to adjust the outline of the campaign, to fill in the outline with maneuvers that take advantage of the opposition’s errors, and to compensate for one’s own mistakes and bad luck
  • and — as mentioned — a large measure of patience, especially when one is tempted either to quit or escalate blindly.

My patience was in the service of my felt need to quit the think-tank as it had become under the direction of my boss, the CEO. He had politicized an organization whose effectiveness depended upon its long-standing (and mostly deserved) reputation for independence and objectivity. That reputation rested largely on the organization’s emphasis on empirical research, as opposed to the speculative “policy analysis” that he favored. Further, he — as an avowed Democrat — was also in thrall to political correctness (e.g., a foolish and futile insistence on trying to give blacks a “fair share” of representation on the research staff, despite the paucity of qualified blacks with requisite qualifications). There are other matters that are best left unmentioned, despite the lapse of 21 years.

Because of a special project that I was leading, I could have stayed at the think-tank for at least another three years, had I the stomach for it. And in those three years my retirement fund and savings would have grown to make my retirement more comfortable. But the stress of working for a boss whom I disrespected was too great, so I took the money and ran. And despite occasional regrets, which are now well in the past, I am glad of it.

All of this is by way of prelude to some lessons that I gleaned from my years of work — lessons that may be of interest and value to readers.

If you are highly conscientious (as I am), your superiors will hold a higher opinion of your work than you do. You must constantly remind yourself that you are probably doing better than you think you are. In other words, you should be confident of your ability, because if you feel confident (not self-deluded or big-headed, just confident), you will be less fearful of making mistakes and more willing to venture into new territory. Your value to the company will be enhanced by your self-confidence and by your (justified) willingness to take on new challenges.

When you have established yourself as a valued contributor, you will be better able to stand up to a boss who is foolish, overbearing, incompetent (either singly or in combination). Rehearse your grievances carefully, confront the boss, and then go over his head if he shrugs off your complaints or retaliates against you. But go over his head only if you are confident of (a) your value to the company, (b) the validity of your complaints, and (c) the fair-mindedness of your boss’s boss. (I did this three times in my career. I succeeded in getting rid of a boss the first two times. I didn’t expect to succeed the third time, but it was worth a try because it positioned me for my cushioned exit.)

Patience, which I discussed earlier, is a key to successfully ridding yourself of a bad boss. Don’t push the boss’s boss. He has to admit (to himself) the mistake that he made in appointing your boss. And he has to find a graceful way to retract the mistake.

Patience is also a key to advancement. Never openly campaign for someone else’s job. I got my highest-ranking job simply by positioning myself for it. The big bosses took it from there and promoted me.

On the other hand, if you can invent a job at which you know you’ll succeed — and if that job is clearly of value to the company — go for it. I did it once, and my performance in the job that I invented led to my highest-ranking position.

Through all of that, be prepared to go it alone. Work “friendships” are usually transitory. Your colleagues are (rightly) concerned with their own preservation and advancement. Do not count on them when it comes to fighting battles — like getting rid of a bad boss. More generally, do not count on them. (See the first post listed below.)

Finally, having been a manager for more than half of my 30 years at the think-tank, I learned some things that are spelled out in the third post listed below. Read it if you are a manager, aspiring to be a manager, or simply intrigued by the “mystique” of management.


Related posts:

The Best Revenge
Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Hemi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry
How to Manage
Not-So-Random Thoughts (V) (first entry)

The Broader Meaning of a Personal Anniversary

This is the 17th anniversary of my retirement from full-time employment. I’ve discussed the broader implications of this anniversary in three earlier posts: “Patience As a Tool of Strategy” (10/03/11), “Happy Anniversary to Me” (10/03/12), and “More Thoughts about Patience and Its Significance” (10/03/13). The third post covers the ground well. I commend it to you.

Signature

Presidential Treason

I see, in recent events, the makings of a New Axis, formed on Russia, Iran, and China. The New Axis, if unchallenged, would be able to isolate and extort the United States. The stark alternatives will be a rerun of World War II or de facto surrender by the United States.

Without a sudden and massive reversal of America’s disarmament, there will be little hope of defeating the New Axis in a rerun of World War II. A 21st Century Alliance would be weaker (relatively) than the World War II Alliance because Britain would not be the player that it was — in spirit or in war-making potential. Continental Europe would sit it out, for fear of retaliation from Russia, even though a victorious Russia would quickly roll up the continent. Israel, India, and Japan would be tied down (if not knocked out quickly). Thus, the U.S. would stand almost alone, with relatively insignificant support from Australia and Canada (maybe).

This gloomy scenario, it seems to me, is the inevitable — and foreseeable — dénouement of Obama’s foreign and defense policies, which seem calculated to encourage Russian and Chinese expansionism. The evidence is there in Obama’s calculated fecklessness in the Middle East, and in his dealings with Russia and China.

As one commentator puts it:

… The fate of the free world no longer rests with the US. It now rests with Putin. He and the mullahs in Iran, presented with the spectacle of the preening narcissist in the White House gazing in rapt adoration at his own reflection, are surely laughing fit to bust.

And why shouldn’t the First Narcissist preen? For he has achieved precisely what he wanted, his true goal that I described in this blog when Obama first ran for President: to extend the reach of the state over peoples’ lives at home, to emasculate the power of America abroad, and to make the free white world the slave of those he falsely characterised as the victims of that white world’s oppression…. (Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013)

Norman Podhoretz delivers a fuller version of this thesis; for example:

… [A]s astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”

Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us—and I think it is—let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish….

… As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen….

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles. (“Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013)

I dare call it treason.

*     *     *

A small sample of related reading:
Walter Russell Mead et al., “Putin Tells His Ambassadors: The West Is All Washed Up,” The American Interest, July 9, 2012
Erica Ritz, “Troubling? Putin Overseas Largest Russian Nuclear Tests Since the Cold War,” The Blaze, October 20, 2012
Caroline Glick, “The Goal of Obama’s Foreign Policy,” RealClearPolitics, November 26, 2013
Benjamin Kerstein,”The Iran Deal: American Influence Retreats,” The Federalist, November 26, 2013
Mandy Nagy, “What the White House Didn’t Report on the Iran Nuke Deal,” Legal Insurrection, November 29, 2013
Brian T. Kennedy, “Early Warning: The Continuing Need for National Defense,” Imprimis, March 2014
Editorial board, “President Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Based on Fantasy,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2014
Daniel Greenfield, “Obama Enters Putin’s World,” Frontpage Mag, March 3, 2014
Bruce Thornton, “Sacrificing the Military to Entitlements,” Frontpage Mag, March 3, 2014
Robert Tracinski, “The Eighties Called: Do We Want Their Foreign Policy Back?,” The Federalist, March 3, 2014
Michael Auslin, “Crimean Lessons for East Asia,” WSJ.com, March 4, 2014
Thomas Lifson, “China Watches Ukraine, Eyes Taiwan,” American Thinker, March 4, 2014
Rick Moran, “TNR: Romney Got Russia Right,” American Thinker, March 4, 2014
Mark Thiessen, “What Can Obama Do in Ukraine? Plenty,” AEIdeas, March 4, 2014
Walter Russell Mead et al., “The Dragon Sharpens Its Claws,” The American Interest, March 6, 2014
Ed Lasky, “Obama to Cut AWACS Fleet by 25%,” American Thinker, March 11, 2014
Roy Gutman, “Russia’s History and Politics, Not U.S. Policies, Drive Russia in Ukraine, Book Argues” (a review of Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism, by Marcel H. Van Herpen), McClatchy Washington Bureau (published in various media), April 2, 2014
Robert Spencer, “Obama’s Treason: Even Worse Than We Thought“, Frontpage Mag, June 7, 2018

Related posts:
Why Sovereignty?
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Fall and Rise of American Empire

More Thoughts about Patience and Its Significance

This is a rerun of “Patience as a Tool of Strategy,” (10/03/11), and of “Happy Anniversary to Me” (10/03/12). I have revised the closing paragraphs.

Today is the 16th anniversary of my retirement from full-time employment. I take special delight in this annual observance because my retirement capped a subtle campaign to arrange the end of my employment on terms very favorable to me. The success of the campaign brought a profitable end to my tense relationship with my boss. I liken the campaign to fly-fishing: I reeled in a big fish by accurately casting an irresistible lure then playing the fish into my net. I have long wondered if my boss ever grasped what I had done and how I had done it. The key was patience; more than a year passed between my casting of the lure and the netting of the fish (early retirement with a financial sweetener). Without going into the details of my “fishing expedition,” I can translate them into the elements of success in any major undertaking:

  • strategy — a broad and feasible outline of a campaign to attain a major objective;
  • intelligence — knowledge of the opposition’s objectives, resources, and tactical repertoire, supplemented by timely reporting of his actual moves (especially unanticipated ones);
  • resources — the physical and intellectual wherewithal to accomplish the strategic objective while coping with unforeseen moves by the opposition and strokes of bad luck;
  • tactical flexibility — a willingness and ability to adjust the outline of the campaign, to fill in the outline with maneuvers that take advantage of the opposition’s errors, and to compensate for one’s own mistakes and bad luck;
  • and — as mentioned — a large measure of patience, especially when one is tempted either to quit or escalate blindly.

Patience is not a virtue that accrues to amorphous masses, like nations. It can be found only in individuals or groups of individuals who share the same objectives and are able to work together long enough to attain those objectives. Patience doesn’t necessarily accompany other virtues. After all, Hitler exhibited great patience in his willingness to pursue power despite setbacks and ridicule along the way. The successful pursuit of high office in the United States also requires great patience, but the power of the presidency has been wielded by the likes of Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Clinton, and Obama. What does that say about me? You can read my posts and be the judge, insofar as what I write reflects the kind of person that I am. But in reading my posts, you will learn more about me than you will ever know about aspirants to high office.

*     *     *

Related posts:
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Not-So-Random Thoughts (V) (first entry)

Happy Anniversary to Me

Patience as a Tool of Strategy,” from 10/03/11, with one obvious change:

Today is the 14th 15th anniversary of my retirement from full-time employment. I take special delight in this annual observance because my retirement capped a subtle campaign to arrange the end of my employment on terms very favorable to me. The success of the campaign brought a profitable end to my tense relationship with my boss.

I liken the campaign to fly-fishing: I reeled in a big fish by accurately casting an irresistible lure then playing the fish into my net. I have long wondered if my boss ever grasped what I had done and how I had done it. The key was patience; more than a year passed between my casting of the lure and the netting of the fish (early retirement with a financial sweetener).

Without going into the details of my “fishing expedition,” I can translate them into the elements of success in any major undertaking:

  • strategy — a broad and feasible outline of a campaign to attain a major objective;
  • intelligence — knowledge of the opposition’s objectives, resources, and tactical repertoire, supplemented by timely reporting of his actual moves (especially unanticipated ones);
  • resources — the physical and intellectual wherewithal to accomplish the strategic objective while coping with unforeseen moves by the opposition and strokes of bad luck;
  • tactical flexibility — a willingness and ability to adjust the outline of the campaign, to fill in the outline with maneuvers that take advantage of the opposition’s errors, and to compensate for one’s own mistakes and bad luck;
  • and — as mentioned — a large measure of patience, especially when one is tempted either to quit or escalate blindly.

Patience is not a virtue that accrues to amorphous masses, like nations. It can be found only in individuals or groups of individuals who share the same objectives and are able to work together long enough to attain those objectives. Whether such individuals or groups lead nations — and lead them wisely — is another matter.

Related posts:
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Not-So-Random Thoughts (V) (first entry)

Not-So-Random Thoughts (V)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Added 08/13/12: Patience as a Tool of Strategy

I wrote about this a while ago. My closing thoughts:

Patience is not a virtue that accrues to amorphous masses, like nations. It can be found only in individuals or groups of individuals who share the same objectives and are able to work together long enough to attain those objectives. Whether such individuals or groups lead nations — and lead them wisely — is another matter.

Imlac’s Journal has a relevant post, about Roman consul and general Fabius Maximus (280 – 203 B.C.),

exemplary in terms of his patience, endurance and self-sacrifice.  He reminds one in many ways of George Washington. Both men lost battles, but in the long run their steady and sensible strategies won wars.

It is possible to be impatient in small things — to have a hair-trigger temper — and yet to be patient in the quest for a major goal. Impatience in small things may even serve the strategy of patience, if impatience (deployed sparingly and selectively) helps to maintain discipline among the ranks.

Added 08/13/12: Beauty-ism

I was amused to find that my post “How to Combat Beauty-ism” has been linked to in the opening paragraph of “Beauty and the Beast: The ‘Othering’ of Women by the Beauty Industry.” This post is on the website of something called The South African Civil Society Information Service: A nonprofit news agency promoting social justice. Seeking answers to the question: How do we make democracy work for the poor?

The author, one Gillian Schutte, who seems to be a regular contributor, is styled “an award winning independent filmmaker, writer and social justice activist.” Ms. Schutte (if “Ms.” is the proper appellation for a South African) appears to be a well-groomed, passably attractive (but not beautiful) person of middle age. She writes:

Beautyism is an assumption that physical appeal prevails [sic] knowledge, value, or anything personable [sic]. It is the inherent bias that bestows all sorts of unproved talents and privileges onto a person simply because she is beautiful.

And it could be, as Ms. Schutte’s writing demonstrates, that a lack of beauty is no guarantee of intelligence. In fact, it might be a source of bitterness, which surfaces as rage against the West and those who dare to be civilized and prosperous. Thus, according to Schutte, the beauty industry

along with the mainstream media, is premised on beautyism and has employed a very effective tool of “othering” those who do not fit into the idealised picture of what is pleasing to the male gaze….

“[O]thering” is a tactic that is used in the marginalisation of many groups of people by the moneyed mainstream. These include the LGBTI sector, the poor, Muslims, and Blacks – and they are marginalised so that those doing the marginalisation can use them as a means to an end. An example is the demonization of Islam in order to push the imperialist oil grabbing agenda of the West.

Wow! From beauty-ism (my preferred spelling) to oil-grabbing in a single post.

I have not seen any oil-grabbing recently, unless it is considered oil-grabbing when Westerners choose to buy the oil that Islamic nations deign to offer for sale. If Islam has been demonized, chalk it up to Islamic extremists, who — among many things — have committed acts of terror against innocents, have punished and murdered persons of the “LGBTI sector,” and are not known for their appreciation of the social value of women, except as bed-partners, bearers of children, and domestic slaves. Such is the selective outrage of the professional “social justice activist.” I could not have written a better parody of “social justice activism” than the one that Ms. Schutte has unwittingly produced.

Income Inequality — The Pseudo-Problem That Will Not Die

The Mismeasure of Inequality” (Kip Hagopian and Lee Ohaian, Policy Review, August 1, 2012) is as thorough a primer on the pseudo-problem of inequality as anyone is likely to find, anywhere. The authors’ facts and logic will not convince hard-leftists who believe in income redistribution and are blind and deaf to its dire consequences for low-income persons. But reasonable people might be swayed.

Closely related are Deirdre McCloskey’s powerful defense of free markets: “Actual Free Market Fairness” (Bleeding Heart Libertarians, June 26 2012) and authoritative demolition of MIchael Sandel’s anti-market screed, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limit of Markets” (Prudentia, August 1, 2012).

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
A Short Course in Economics
Democracy and Liberty
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
A True Flat Tax
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%

Cass Sunstein

Ken Masugi’s “Missing the Significance of Cass Sunstein” (Library of Law and Liberty, August 7, 2012) is a just indictment of Sunstein’s anti-libertarian agenda. For example:

Sunstein has written among the most radical critiques of the American Constitution ever espoused. While not a Marxist revolutionary, his criticism is scarcely less transformative. His project of radicalizing the New Deal and the work of Progressives is captured in the subtitle to his book The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever. But the book that is even more explicit is After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State (1993).

Sunstein claims to present the regulatory measures of bureaucratic government “in a way that is fundamentally faithful” to the American Constitution. The book’s second sentence acknowledges that “Modern regulation has profoundly affected constitutional democracy, by renovating the original commitments to checks and balances, federalism, and individual rights.” That transformation of basic constitutional principles “culminated in the rights revolution of the 1960s and 1970s”—meaning the Great Society and post-Watergate programs. Sunstein’s task is to reinterpret the regulatory regime “in a way that is fundamentally faithful to constitutional commitments and promotes, in a dramatically different environment, the central goals of the constitutional system—freedom and welfare.”

Sunstein weaves three “more particular goals” throughout the book: 1.) the practical one of combating the Reagan and Thatcher reforms, which were based on market principles and “private right,” 2.) defending the history of government regulation in America, and 3.) proposing “a theory of interpretation that courts (and administrative agencies) …. might invoke in order to improve the performance of modern government.” Sunstein emphasizes that he wishes to save the “basic commitments of the American constitutional system,” not the text of the Constitution or the structure it sets forth. Of course the “rights revolution” has transformed the meaning of those commitments, so we are left in a universe that is open to Sunstein’s creative interpretation. As Postell observes, “The final triumph of postmodernism is to avail itself of modern or pre-modern justifications whenever they come in handy, and disparage them when they don’t.”

This post-modern perspective is richly abundant throughout After the Rights Revolution. If you thought freedom of speech is a “basic commitment” of America, think again: The “fairness doctrine” and even more extreme measures are justified to protect citizens from injuries to their “character, beliefs, and even conduct.” (For Sunstein’s regulatory schemes for the internet, including schemes for requiring links and pop-ups to alternative points of view, see Edward Erler’s Claremont Review of Books  essay, “Liberalchic.gov”)  In a regime of equal opportunity, racial preferences remedy market failures that permit employment discrimination. Of course property rights yield to the common good, as determined by political arrangements on behalf of the general welfare. Thus, the Civil War was fought not to affirm the founding principle of self-government (not to mention the quaint notion that each man owns himself) but to herald the regulatory regime of the New Deal.

With “friends” like Sunstein, liberty and the Constitution need no enemies.

Related posts:
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Libertarian Paternalism
Slippery Sunstein
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Sunstein and Executive Power
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Free Will

This perennial subject of philosophical and psychological debate gets another going-over by Steven Landsburg, in “Free to Choose” (The Big Questions, July 18, 2012). Landsburg defends the idea of free will. I prefer my defense (from “Free Will: A Proof by Example?“):

Is there such a thing as free will, or is our every choice predetermined? Here’s a thought experiment:

Suppose I think that I might want to eat some ice cream. I go to the freezer compartment and pull out an unopened half-gallon of vanilla ice cream and an unopened half-gallon of chocolate ice cream. I can’t decide between vanilla, chocolate, some of each, or none. I ask a friend to decide for me by using his random-number generator, according to rules of his creation. He chooses the following rules:

  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an odd digit, I will eat vanilla.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat chocolate.
  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat some of each flavor.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an odd digit, I will not eat ice cream.

Suppose that the number generated by my friend begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit: the choice is chocolate. I act accordingly.

I didn’t inevitably choose chocolate because of events that led to the present state of my body’s chemistry, which might otherwise have dictated my choice. That is, I broke any link between my past and my choice about a future action.

I call that free will.

I suspect that our brains are constructed in such a way as to produce the same kind of result in many situations, though certainly not in all situations. That is, we have within us the equivalent of an impartial friend and an (informed) decision-making routine, which together enable us to exercise something we can call free will….

Even if our future behavior is tightly linked to our past and present states of being — and to events outside of us that have their roots in the past and present — those linkages are so complex that they are safely beyond our comprehension and control.

If nothing else, we know that purposive human behavior can make a difference in the course of human events. Given that, and given how little we know about the complexities of existence, we might as well have free will.

See also “Is Free Will an Illusion?” (a virtual colloquium at The Chronicle of Higher Education), “Brain might not stand in the way of free will” (New Scientist, August 9, 2012), and my post, “Free Will, Crime, and Punishment.”

Patience as a Tool of Strategy

Today is the 14th anniversary of my retirement from full-time employment. I take special delight in this annual observance because my retirement capped a subtle campaign to arrange the end of my employment on terms very favorable to me. The success of the campaign brought a profitable end to my tense relationship with my boss.

I liken the campaign to fly-fishing: I reeled in a big fish by accurately casting an irresistible lure then playing the fish into my net. I have long wondered if my boss ever grasped what I had done and how I had done it. The key was patience; more than a year passed between my casting of the lure and the netting of the fish (early retirement with a financial sweetener).

Without going into the details of my “fishing expedition,” I can translate them into the elements of success in any major undertaking:

  • strategy — a broad and feasible outline of a campaign to attain a major objective;
  • intelligence — knowledge of the opposition’s objectives, resources, and tactical repertoire, supplemented by timely reporting of his actual moves (especially unanticipated ones);
  • resources — the physical and intellectual wherewithal to accomplish the strategic objective while coping with unforeseen moves by the opposition and strokes of bad luck;
  • tactical flexibility — a willingness and ability to adjust the outline of the campaign, to fill in the outline with maneuvers that take advantage of the opposition’s errors, and to compensate for one’s own mistakes and bad luck;
  • and — as mentioned — a large measure of patience, especially when one is tempted either to quit or escalate blindly.

Patience is not a virtue that accrues to amorphous masses, like nations. It can be found only in individuals or groups of individuals who share the same objectives and are able to work together long enough to attain those objectives. Whether such individuals or groups lead nations — and lead them wisely — is another matter.

Related post: A Grand Strategy for the United States